A Million Suggestions from Suzan-Lori Parks: A lecture and stage play world premiere

Transcript by Molly Benson


Jini Palmer: Welcome to Town Hall Seattle’s arts and culture series. On Saturday, September 7th, award-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks had an all day Town Hall takeover with a meta-theatrical performance in the Forum, a high energy lecture in the Great Hall and an evening concert by the Suzan-Lori Parks Band. On this episode, we listen to Suzan-Lori’s humorous and high energy lecture followed by a stage performance. The performance was offered as a companion piece to Robert Pinsky’s poem that inaugurated Town Hall’s space 20 years ago and provided a reflection of the Great Hall’s bustling, civic energy. And now “A Million Suggestions” from Suzan-Lori Parks.

Suzan-Lori Parks: Yay, Seattle. Yay. Look at your beautiful flowers. So wonderful. Thank you, guys, for inviting me to celebrate with you today. This is a big deal for Seattle, for Seattle Town Hall. It’s also a big deal for me because Weir and I have been friends going way back to when he was the head of our Seattle hub for 365 Days/365 Plays, and Seattle really turned out some wonderful theater way back then. It was 2003 or four or five, something like that. But Seattle, I think you guys were the only city to do it every week, and you guys came together and had plays happening all over, in parks, in laundromats, on tops of buildings, in empty swimming pools. It was pretty amazing. So I’ve loved you guys, loved you guys before, but definitely started loving you guys then.

This evening, I have a million suggestions for you. A million. I know. So to get through a million suggestions in the time we have, you’re going to hear some suggestions that it’s going to require that I do something like this. And first I do this. Any of you who are sensitive, you know, ear sensitive. [growling] Like that because a lot of the suggestions are going to be whizzing by at the speed of sound. Some of the suggestions will be whizzing by at the speed of speech. All of the suggestions you’ll be able to incorporate for good use in your daily life. Now also to travel through the world of a million suggestions, I’ll be doing some gestures. I’ll be telling you some stories from the book of my life as a writer because that’s pretty much what I do. I write songs, I write plays and movies and TV shows and essays and, geez, songs. I play music. We have a band which will be playing some music later tonight. Also, maybe I’ll tell you about our son who’s seven going on eight. You know what that’s like. Third grade is apparently very exciting these days. After I’m done talking, I’ll talk a lot, we’ll see a little, beautiful play that I wrote just for Seattle Town Hall. It’s called Beginner. And then we’ll conclude my lecture, and I’ll take questions. So if you all have Q and A about my work or your creative process or whatever, I’m here. Ask away.

But first I’ll get started with the question I get asked pretty much a lot, the most. I won the Pulitzer Prize a while ago. And a lot of people asked me, “What’s it like being the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama?” And I’m like, “It’s really great. It’s really, really great.” It’s really great. Yeah. But it’s also very humbling because as we all know we stand on the shoulders of giants. We’ve heard that saying. When we excel it’s because of our own hard work, yes, but it’s also because of the hard work of people who came before us. People who might’ve cleared the path that we are walking down. People who might have paved that road that we walked down. So when we honor this moment, we also honor the people who’ve come before. And recently people on my mind, Ntozake Shange who passed away recently. Tony Morrison also passed away recently. August Wilson who lived for a good long while in the town of Seattle. Folks like that helped me be the person and the writer that I am. When our forefathers and our foremothers were dreaming of something better, they were dreaming about us. As they say in The Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” Us right here. So with every step we take, every action we make, we represent, as Aristotle said, because, right, I do a lot of drama, as Aristotle said, “Our characters are the result of our repeated actions,” in theater and in life. True that.

I started writing. A lot of people wonder when I started writing, and I started writing in the fourth grade. And I’m thinking of my son now, he’s in the third grade and he starting, yeah. So I started sort of like, “I want to be a writer,” in the fourth grade. But you can begin doing your thing at any age, right? You don’t have to be a little kid to begin something wonderful. Emerson says, “Do your things so that I may know you.” So today is an excellent day to start. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “To be that change that you want to see in the world.” Today’s a great day to begin to be that change, even if you’ve already achieved something. Some of us have been lauded and awarded and have many, many degrees. And we think, “Ah no, I’ve kind of gotten my wonderful bit.” If there’s something you still want to do, I give you permission to do it. I’m always giving myself permission. But even if you’ve won prizes, even if you won the Pulitzer Prize, I have this joke that’s a joke and then I share it with you. I always ask that, when I get on stage to do a lecture, I ask that they provide a chair or a stool, which I don’t sit in because I don’t think it’s ever a time to rest on your laurels. The world is waiting for you to do that next wonderful thing. And as I told the people who gathered early today for Watch Me Work, we’re counting on you to pull us through. That’s why I flew over here from New York, just to remind myself of that. We’re counting on you to pull us through. And I figure if we got the corners, then we got it made. So we’re in New York, y’all got the upper West corner, but we’re counting on you to pull us through. If you haven’t yet found your thing, how do you find it? You find it by following it, following your gut. You find it by listening in. You listen to your own far out ideas.

So back to the story of my writing life. My desire to be a writer started pretty much when my dad—well, it started with a piano, which doesn’t make any sense. But my dad was in Vietnam; for part of his life’s work, he was a career army officer. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam. And when he came home from Vietnam, from the war, he and my mom had this crazy idea. They had a vision of the American Dream, and their vision of the American Dream had a soundtrack, and the soundtrack was the sound of their children practicing scales on the piano.

[musical scales]

Dadda dadda dadda dadda dadda dadda. So they took what little money they had, they didn’t have a lot of money, and they bought a baby grand piano, which sat in our various living rooms because every year we had to move. So we moved that baby grand piano all around the country, all around in Europe, too. I loved playing the piano. But what I loved more than playing the piano was sitting underneath the piano with the family dog. Now, you must remember this was a time in history when children would go outside and play. They don’t so much anymore. But back then kids would go outside and play, and my brother and sister would be outside playing, and I would be sitting under the piano. And my mother would come looking for me because she didn’t hear the sound of me practicing scales. She’d find me underneath the piano, and she’d say, “What are you doing?” And I’d say, “I’m writing my novel.” I had a notebook, and I was writing my novel. Now, again, it was fourth grade. I had read two novels. Harriet the Spy, which is an amazing novel. Hotel for Dogs, which is also an amazing novel which is getting some traction again recently. Our son loves the novel Hotel for Dogs. And I had read at a novel, at, which means that you’d pick up the illustrated classics off your parents’ shelf, illustrated Don Quixote, and I read the captions underneath the drawings. So I had two-ish novels under my belt. For Valentine’s Day, my parents had given me the James Baldwin book, The Fire Next Time. For Valentine’s Day. I was like, “It’s a novel about fire.” I had no idea what it was about, but I’d look on the back of the book a lot and study his face, the look on his face. Still, I figured I’d read two plus novels. I was going to be a writer. I was going to write a novel, too, which brings us finally to suggestion number one.

Suggestion number one: entertain all your far-out ideas. Entertain all your far out ideas. Invite them in, sit them down at your table, give them some delicious food and drink, put on some music, light some candles, invite them to bring their friends over. Invite your far out ideas to take root in your life. Invite them to bloom. What’s an example of a far out idea from my life? 365 Days/365 Plays is a far out idea. I just said, “I’m going to write a play a day for a whole year. Then I’m going to go around the country and invite people to do them. We won’t make any money, but we’ll have fun.” That’s a far out idea. Topdog/Underdog was also a far out idea. Pretty much everything I’ve ever written is a far out idea, is the result of a far out idea. So most of the time your far out ideas come to you, and they are met with this: “Oh, it’s not practical. I don’t know. I’m too old. What would the neighbors think? My kids will laugh at me. I’m not old enough.” Like that. They’re met with this kind of thing, and I know because then they come to me and I’m like, “Sure, I’ll do it.” Like that. So, entertain all your far out ideas.

But I started writing in the fourth grade. After that, after I started writing in the fourth grade, what did I do? I kept up with it. I continued. And just because I’m standing up here talking this evening doesn’t mean that the trip hasn’t been, like my son says, “Easy peasy lemon squeezy.” The journey is blessed, of course, but not without stress. It takes tenacity, resilience. I was in high school, long time ago, and I took AP English class. I think they still have AP English classes. Do they still do that? Advanced Placement English, right? So I wrote wonderful essays, but I was a lousy speller. Now, how can that be a problem? Those of you who don’t remember, back in the days of time long lost, before everybody had a personal computer, before Microsoft took over this city, they had such things like, it was called B.S.C. It was a time of history called B.S.C., which means “before spell check”. And those of us who were not naturally gifted spellers, were doomed. Were doomed. My English teacher in high school would tell me, “Sound it out, sound it out.” That was how they told us to spell. Didn’t work. Doesn’t work in English to sound out words. Every week, my AP English teacher, because back then if you were a good speller, you were considered to be intelligent, and if you were a poor spell, you were considered to be not so bright, so she wanted to test us all every week. She’d give us a list of words on Monday and by Friday we’d have a test. And I’d study really hard. And the test day would come around. And Friday starts with F for a reason because I [/f/ /f/ /f/]. So the whole academic year of this, this was a whole year’s worth of pain and suffering. And finally, I kept my grades up in other classes, so I managed to get into college, Mount Holyoke College. Luckily they accepted me. Oh, someone raised—yay, right? It’s one of the best, well don’t want to be biased or anything, but it’s kind of the best college in the country. Just saying. But it’s an amazing place. And I went to my high school English teacher for the debriefing, you know the thing that they have to give you a talk before you go out into the world, and she said, “Oh.” Oh, that’s another thing about her; she had an overbite, so how she talk like this. And she said, “Well, Ms. Parks, congratulations on getting into Mount Holyoke College. What are you intending on studying?” And I said, “Well, I am going to be a writer.” And she said, “Well that’s very interesting.” And she took out her grade book, [bam], this huge ledger, the dust floating up to the ceiling, and she found my name, and she read across my grades for all those failed spelling tests. [balloon inflating] And if my dreams and hopes had been a little red balloon [balloon deflating]. She said, “Well, Ms. Parks, you shouldn’t major in English, and you should not be a writer because you’re a very poor speller.” And I heard what she said and my response, I said, “Yes, ma’am.” Because you see, I was raised, my dad was in the army and we were brought up to say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” and “yes, sir” and “no, sir”; we were raised like that. I wasn’t too upset. I had a backup plan. I was really good in science, and so I figured I was just going to be the first black woman in space, which Dr. Mae Jemison did it instead, which was really good because I would have been totally bad at it. But I went to college and I became a chemistry major.

Which brings us to suggestion number two: sometimes a well-meaning person who you respect and who wants you to succeed, gives you some advice that’s coming out of their mouth that does not jive with what’s going on inside you. You respect them. They like you. They are talking to you; it doesn’t make sense. And when that happens, just simply say, “No thank you,” to their advice. I hadn’t heard of that suggestion back then because that was in my past, and here I am now.

So I went to college and I took a lot of science courses. They were cool. I spent hours in the lab. I wore a white lab coat and rubber gloves and a rubber apron and those goggles, and we stood there mixing all kinds of really interesting chemicals. Not to dis science majors at all, but I felt, I’m like, “I’m dying. This is what it feels like to be dead.” I had to take an English class because they make you take English at Mount Holyoke. “You must be well rounded.” So I had to go into the English class, and of course I didn’t want to because I’d been told I was lousy at it, and so I had developed a justified hatred of literature. And I sat in class like this, and we read books like To the Lighthouse. Has anybody read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse? You have? You’ve read it; you read it. Can you tell me what it’s about? Can you explain it to me? You can. [forceful huh!] You’re doing it with gestures. [forceful huh!] Oh, that’s beautiful. Oh, now there, see, I could have used that 87 years ago when I was in college. I can only repeat parts of the novel. “It will be fine. It won’t be fine. Will we go to the lighthouse? I don’t know.” Mrs. Ramsey dies in parentheses. Someone is knitting. Lily Briscoe paints something or other. She puts a shape in the right place. They go to the lighthouse. They give the socks to the lighthouse keeper’s boy. The End. Like I said, I can only repeat lines from the novel. I don’t think I’ve digested it. I don’t think I wrote a good paper on it. It certainly wasn’t spelled well, that I know. But I fell in love with that novel. Don’t know why. I absolutely fell in love with that novel. I felt like I read that novel that I couldn’t understand, and I couldn’t be eloquent about, but I felt like, you know, flowers, flowers that turn their faces to the sun? Heliotropism. I felt like I had turned back to the thing that I loved. I had turned back. Virginia Wolf, I would say, helped me remember myself, re-member myself, put my limbs, my body, myself back together. So there I was in college, I’d fallen back in love with literature, and so that little dream of being a writer started to grow again. “Maybe I could try, I don’t know.” So what I did is I decided, “Well I’m just going to take some more English classes. I’m going to be a writer,” I said one day to myself. No one heard me.

That’s the same thing I do now, 87 years later. I decide to be a writer every single day. I wake up in the morning, sometimes I say it aloud, sometimes I say it silently to myself while I’m meditating, “I’m going to be a writer today.” And it takes that kind of commitment in my life to be a writer. After a certain number of years, we figure, “Hey, come on, you’ve been doing it for so long, don’t you just coast?” There’s no coasting in life. There’s no cruise control. It’s a relationship. Just because you get married or have someone who says I love you, you’ve got to love that person every day. Right? You gotta make that love anew every day. You have to commit yourself to the thing you love, whether you’re a parent or a dentist or a chemist or a doctor or a pilot or an accountant or whatever. You have to take your vows and renew your vows every day. So being a writer like that, it’s a continual daily practice of saying, “Yes. Yes, I’ll try. I’ll do my best.” And I try every single day. I was telling the folks in Watch Me Work, even if it’s just for five minutes of writing. Typewriter or computer, you know? Even if it’s not good. I was thinking the other week to some of my students back in New York, and whether or not you believe in God or what you want to call the spirit, but there’s a phrase, “God is good.” You know? This is a sidebar by the way. “God is good.” They don’t say, “God is perfect.” Right? So what did we try to be perfect for? Just be good. In our house we say, my husband’s from Germany, we say, “Gut genug.” Gut genug, good enough. Just try something. Try something.

So that’s what I started doing way back in college, and I was not the best writer in any of my writing classes, ever. But, still, wonderful things started to happen, and one is I didn’t have to take any more chemistry classes, which I thought was really good. I would have blown up something. I got to spend a lot of time writing and reading, which I loved. And I heard wind that there was a very famous, wonderful writer who was going to be teaching writing at a college down the road from Mount Holyoke College. It was suggested that I apply to his class. And it was James Baldwin. He was wanting to hang out in the Pioneer Valley, take a break from living in France, hang out in the Pioneer Valley, and teach a creative writing class. He told us that he had never taught a creative writing class before, which is the spoiler alert to my application process because I was one of the 15 students who got in. Fifteen of us at a library table at Hampshire College right down the road. And I remember that first night; I remember Valentine’s Day, ten years before when I was in fourth grade, my parents give me this book, The Fire Next Time. All I knew of James Baldwin, I still hadn’t read the book, I don’t think, but I had been studying his face on the dust jacket. And so I was like, “Okay, this is amazing. He’s gonna come in. He’s going to be huge. He’s going to fill the whole doorway.” And he came in, and he’s very slight, very finely built. He’s about this tall, was about this tall. Fine limbs, very beautiful. He looked like: a head like a cute tip swab, like an alien, eyes that could see through your best bullshit. And he sat at the head of the table and conducted class every Monday. After class each week, he would invite us for drinks. And it wasn’t in a weird way; he liked to socialize. And he would say, “Come to the local bar,” or whatever it was back then, “and have drinks with Jimmy.” Jimmy. I never called him Jimmy. I always called him Mr. Baldwin. I never went for drinks. I was like 18, I don’t know. I was like, “I’m not going to drink alcohol with Mr. Baldwin.” But it was a beautiful thing. He was very generous, very kind. When it was my turn— it was a short story writing class, if you can imagine, so there we are 15 people. These are bright, brilliant young writers from the Valley. There were three from UMass, three from Smith, three from Amherst, three from Hampshire and three from Mount Holyoke. These are the cool people. They had all written beautiful short stories. And I’ve written some short stories, and I thought that my short stories would be better if I performed them in class. So I got in the habit when it was my turn, which happened every, I don’t know, three or four weeks or so, I would stand up at the library table and read my short stories aloud and kind of act them out. And this went on all semester. Nobody in the class said, “You’re crazy. Stop doing that.” Nobody said that. I was really into it. I thought that it made the stories sound better. After one class, Mr. Baldwin took me aside, and he said, “Um, Ms. Parks, have you ever thought about writing for the theater?” Now I got to say, sidebar, I didn’t like the theater. No, no. I mean, I loved novels and poetry. And I mean, Shakespeare wasn’t theater, right? Shakespeare was Shakespeare. Yeah. Right. Okay. But I would look at the theater people, you know the people who were theater majors. I can still see them in my mind’s eye across the green. They’re gallivanting. But they are. They’re always having a good time, wearing funny hats. And I mean, they were all American, right? It was an American school. They’re all saying, “Dahling, dahling, dahling, dahling.” Like that. I’m like, “Uh-uh, I’m not one of those people. I’m a writer.” Okay. But anyway, yeah.

So suggestion number two is just say no to advice that doesn’t jive with you. And suggestion number three is sometimes someone, it’s very tricky, sometimes someone you respect who really thinks a lot about you and really wants you to succeed, gives you some advice that actually does jive with something that’s going on inside you. And when that happens, you take their advice, which is what I did. And I started writing my very first play on the bus ride home from class. Scrawling it in my notebook, not knowing what I was doing, but figuring, “Hey, I’ll give it a go.” Yeah, Mr. Baldwin suggested I try playwriting, and that’s still what I’m doing today: trying playwriting. It’s the same activity. Sidebar: There’s a wonderful teacher—I do a lot of yoga, if we want to talk about yoga, we can in the Q and A—but there’s a wonderful teacher, his name is Aadil Palkhivala, who says, “You don’t want to spend enormous amounts of energy climbing the ladder of success only to find that you’ve propped your ladder up against the wrong wall.” And we ask ourselves, “How do we know what’s the right wall? That looks like the right wall. It’s stained glass. It’s beautiful. That could be the wall, or, oh gee, no, maybe it’s that one.” How do we know which wall is the right wall? Spend more time listening to your own voice.

Thanks. [Thunderous growling] Suggestion number 1,620—told you—practice listening. Listen to what they call that small, still voice within. Tune into your own guts. And I mention practice listening because people are always asking where I get my ideas from. And of course I’m out in the world all the time and get a lot of ideas from being in the world and being awake in the world. I also get a lot of ideas from listening in to my own guts. That inner listening, like William Faulkner said, “I listen to the voices.” That’s the kind of listening I’m talking about. Oh, here’s an example of listening to the far out ideas, and tonight I’ll sing a song that I wrote for this play, but example: I was in a canoe. I was out in Nantucket. I’m not sure which is East or West, but I’m going to pretend it’s over there. Oh, that way? The East is that way? Awesome. So Nantucket, right? You can imagine. It’s like this way, this way, this way. Nantucket, you know what I’m talking about, in a canoe, in a canoe. So I’m out in Nantucket in a canoe with a friend paddling in the front, and I’m paddling in the back. And I say out loud to no one, “I’m going to write a play that’s going to be a riff on The Scarlet Letter. I’m going to call it Fucking A. Ha ha ha ha.” Like that. Far out idea coming in. And then I go, “Huh, wow.” So we continued rowing. My friend did not laugh. That didn’t stop me. Row row, row, row. You get back to the shore and you’re [slopping mud] you’re walking in the mud. And I’m thinking, “That could be kind of cool.” So what do I have to do now? Game plan, right? What do I have to do to write a riff on The Scarlet Letter called Fucking A? I have to read The Scarlet Letter. Yeah. So I did that, and then I went ahead and wrote the play, The Scarlet Letter, which is beautiful, it came out really well. And the wonderful thing about it is that I started writing Fucking A, and it was so hard to write that, long story short, it turned into two plays. One is called In the Blood, and one is called The Scarlet Letter. So I actually got two plays out of that far out idea.

Here’s another suggestion. Suggestion number 1,621: make sure that your fear does not erode your faith. Make sure that your fear does not erode your faith. Suggestion number 1,622: mantras. If you heard the word mantras, right? I was in a yoga class the other week and they were talking about how mantras are mind vaccines. If you’re an anti-vaxxer, just go with it for just a minute because it doesn’t involve anything but just thoughts. Mind vaccines. And there are a lot of wonderful mind vaccines that I’ll talk about a little bit later. But, question, does anyone here have a meditation practice? Anybody? One, two, three, twelve, twenty. Good, nice, well done. Well done. I always, everywhere I go, every time I talk to folks, I encourage us all to either renew or celebrate or start, begin our meditation practice. Like I was telling the folks in Watch Me Work, you can go to a fancy place and give them a lot of money, and they’ll give you a mantra and get you started. If that’s the way you’d like to go, that’s your choice. You can also just get a timer, a simple kitchen timer, and first thing in the morning instead of checking your newsfeed, no, no, you can check in with this newsfeed. Which is sitting quietly, either in a chair or on the floor if you’re into that kind of thing, setting the timer to maybe 10 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, and just breathing in and out. Thoughts come and go. Our minds are very busy places. Just breathe in and out. If you need a mantra, just the sound of your breath is the mantra that you were given at birth. Can use that. Or if you want to say something like, “Thank you.” That’s a nice one. What meditation does, and what it’s done for me is it allows me to think more clearly and to recover more quickly from the dumb stuff. That’s a word choice. The stuff that’s going on in the world. Sometimes it makes me wanna holler. I holler, and then I can recover and just keep on with my day and be grateful for the things that are beautiful instead of obsessing on the things that are not. Meditation is not a substitute for political action. We know that, too. So we’re not just going to sit on our cushions. We’re going to do like folks back in the day did. You pray with your feet by walking and being active. Great.

[Thunderous growling]

Suggestion number 1,734: your breath is your divine voice. Take some time every day to listen to it. Even if you’ve only got 30 seconds a day, maybe that’s all the time you need. My yoga teacher says when you don’t feel like you have any time, that’s exactly when you should meditate. Okay? So if you’ve got a cramped day, and we’re all very busy, but see if you can take some time. Meditation is a built-in mindfulness app. Oh, that’s right. I did a talk six, eight months ago at USAFA. Does anyone know what USAFA is? The United States Air Force Academy, where if you ever want to hear “yes, ma’am” and “yes, ma’am” in a loud, thunderous voice, you go to USADA and stand in front of them, and they snap to attention like you’ve never seen. And why was I at the Air Force Academy? Because they invited me to talk with them and say hi. Because they believe that they need to learn from lots of different kinds of people doing lots of different kinds of things. And some of my friends heard I was going and they’re like, “You’ve gotta be kidding.” And I’m like, “No, I’m going,” because these kids wanted me to talk with them. But I tried to talk with them about meditation, and so I started calling it a built-in mindfulness app to combat stress. And we had really beautiful conversations about meditation. Sidebar tangent: neuroplasticity, which most of you know what that is, developing your brain. We’re all told that we’re born, you know, at a certain point in our lives were rigid and fixed. Like by the time you’re, I don’t know what people say, eight or ten or fifteen or twenty-one or something. [click crick crack] That’s it. But things like meditation help you stay flexible in your mind. And one thing we need to get through these difficult days is maximum flexibility, right? That’s another thing I came all the way here to remind us all about.

Ooh, back to my story. So my teacher James Baldwin, because I really feel like he is my teacher. I didn’t go to grad school after I graduated from college. I figured I’d had a wonderful experience with a brilliant teacher. My teacher, James Baldwin, steered me toward playwriting, which was great; he taught me also how to conduct myself in the presence of the spirit. How to conduct myself in the presence of the spirit. Now, what does that mean? You treat the spirit as an honored guest. You’re welcoming to all your far out ideas. That’s how you conduct yourself in the presence of the spirit. And you’re respectful to the spirit as you would be respectful in the presence of a powerful volcano, which you guys have here. That way. That way. That way. They’re all around. Thank you. You guys have a lot of volcanoes here, so you know what that’s like. And you’re attentive to the spirit as you would be attentive to your sweetheart, to your lover. How to conduct yourself in the presence of the spirit. And he taught me that every day, every one of us, we are always in the presence of the spirit. And yeah, I had to remind the air force students, and I have to remind myself that the flowers don’t want us to hate anybody. And the trees don’t want us to hurt anybody. And the water says, if you listen to the water it’s saying a lot of things, but the water is saying, “Come on in, everybody.” And the sun shines for everybody. If we could listen to that more.

So fast forward, really fast. I graduated from college. I moved to London for a while because I thought this theater thing; they have a lot of theater in London. Thought I’d go over there and see some theater, came back to New York City, did not go to grad school, did odd jobs in New York City, took a typing course. Not only was I a lousy speller, I was a lousy typist, so I had to take a typing course at the Betty Owens Secretarial College where I learned how to type very fast [typing very fast]. And I had this kilt because that was the fashion back a hundred years ago for young women at Mount Holyoke. We wore kilts. You wore a kilt, right? I mean, they were cute, you know. So I had this kilt, which was the only nice thing in my closet. And I would go to work every day in this red kilt. Of course, I’d have to tie my hair back so that I would look presentable, as that was the code word at the temp agency where I worked. You had to tie your hair back, wear a kilt, and work all day for lawyers who would yell at you, “Hurry up.” I mean, what was so important? Who knows? Anyway, “Hurry up. [yell, babble]” Like that. That was the day. And then in the evening I’d go to the East Village, which was cool. And all my friends who hung out there, they were all poets and stuff, and they were cool, and they were all black and they wore sunglasses 24/7, and they drank absinthe or whatever and smoked unfiltered cigarettes. They looked at me and they were like, “Oh, you’re never going to be an artist. You’re not cool.”

Suggestion number 6,393: don’t worry about being cool. Being cool is overrated. And besides, you’ll miss all the fun. I’m saying that to you cause you look like you’re a young person. Remember that. Don’t worry about being cool. I’m going to use an adult word, cool is bullshit. Everything you need, you have. And we tell my son this all the time. Advertising makes us think that we have to go out and buy that special something to make us wonderful. It’s a sham. You have it inside already. I have to remind myself about that all the time, but we have everything we need inside already.

Moved to New York City. I got my first big break in the business; I self-produced my own play. So that’s how I got my first big break. So I work during the day for the lawyers, hang out with the poets until late at night and then go home, and write and get up in the morning and do it all over again. And I had this play that I’d written, and I was hanging out at night in the East Village in a bar called the Gas Station. And we walked by there the other week. It’s not there anymore. They tore it down. They put up a high rise or something. But it was a gas station. It was a bar that used to be a gas station, and it had no furniture. It had one green couch on which all kinds of things happened, and it had lights. It had Christmas lights. That was the only lighting it had. And I was sitting on the couch one night and the bartender/owner/artist-in-residence, Oswaldo from Argentina, I said, “Oswaldo, I want to do a play here.” And he said, “Okay, we’ve never done plays here, but I’ll go out and buy some chairs, and you could maybe buy some lights.” And I said, “Got it.” It was my first show. Great. So I went out; I took my money, my hard earned temp word processing money, and I bought a whole bunch of lights. Back then when there was a hardware store on every corner, and you could go into the hardware store, and you could buy those clip lights, you know? So I bought a whole bunch of those. And then I got yards and yards of yellow, industrial strength extension cords. And I went into the bar, and I clipped up these lights, put light bulbs in them, of course, and then I connected them all with yellow extension cords. And they met in the back of the stage, and I put a piece of furniture in the back of the stage. You couldn’t see because I hid behind the piece of furniture because we had lighting cues. And so I hid behind a piece of furniture, and while the actors were on stage doing my play, I was hiding behind a piece of furniture. And lights up was this and lights down was this. And so I was doing this for like an hour and a half. It was beautiful. Let’s see, we ran for three days, which was the standard, run for an off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-Broadway play. Some people came. Let’s see, the bar owner, Oswaldo, came and my mom and my dad and my sister and the homeless man who lived outside. Yeah, that was kind of it. It was cold outside, so he came inside to keep warm. I had arrived. I was so proud of myself because I had a play on in New York City. And I feel always the same way now. Like, “Yay.”

I tell my students, they sit around and wait for, I don’t know who, Steven Spielberg or whomever, Ryan Coogler is gonna call them up and invite them on some wonderful artistic adventure. And I just remind them, suggestion number 7,777: as my dad says, you make your luck. You make your luck. And so I started writing plays. I’ve continued after that big break. Came more of the same. And then some slightly bigger productions. Venus, In the Blood, screenplays for Spike Lee like Girl 6, working for Oprah, writing a novel, the film adaptation of Native Son that was just on HBO, and fast forwarding. But it’s always been just the daily activity of showing up at my writing desk. I think of the awards and prizes that we accumulate, and the very first one I ever got was in first grade. We were in Texas in first grade, and I got an award for perfect attendance. And it was not lost on me even as a, what, a six-year-older that the key was just to show up. And I do the same. It’s the same, same, same.

Oh, the suggestions are out of order. Suggestion number 88: courage is contagious. Suggestion number 81: if you feel like you’re getting breadcrumbs, that might be tough, but breadcrumbs are enough to get you home. Oh, these five suggestions from the Civil Rights Movement. Remember, talking about the mind vaccines, these mantras from the Civil Rights Movement. Suggestion number 9: each one, teach one. Suggestion number 12: lift others as you climb. Suggestion number 63 is eyes on the prize. Suggestion number 144: ain’t nobody gonna turn me around. And my favorite one, suggestion number 953: this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. And you know, if it worked for folks back in the day, it can work for us today. Suggestion number 9,260, as Pema Chodron said, she’s a wonderful Buddhist nun. You guys know Pema Chodron, right? She’s pretty, pretty cool. I love hearing her lecture, and she always reminds us to smile at your fear. Smile at your fear, just as a spiritual exercise. Suggestion number 68 from Eleanor Roosevelt, which I quoted today in Watch Me Work earlier today: you must do the thing that you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt, who, we remember, allowed Marian Anderson to sing, made it possible for Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial because the Daughters of the American Revolution would not let Marian Anderson sing in their hall. You must do the thing that you think you cannot do. And you know what that moment is when you think, “I can’t do that,” when you clinch up. That’s exactly where maybe you need to try.

I wrote Topdog/Underdog. I started it in 1999 on the 6th of January, and I finished on the 9th of January. It was fast to write, and I don’t trip on that. I mention it because it reminds me of suggestion number 8, which is don’t trip on something because it just might trip you up. And if we want to talk about Topdog/Underdog, we can do that more in the Q and A. Lot of people ask me about that. But what happened was I wrote it very quickly then I called up my friend Bonnie Metzger, who was a producer at the Public Theater, and I said, “Bonnie, I just wrote a new play. It just happened. Can I have a reading of it?” She said, “Sure.” The Public Theater was willing to do it to produce the play eventually. And then finally it found its way after 9/11, which was devastating to New York, but we got back on our feet. The play found its way to Broadway, and we opened on a Sunday night, it was a wonderful opening, and the next day they announced the Pulitzer Prizes. And I had won. And the sound in my head was [white noise]. Everything either slowed down or sped up. I’m still not sure, but I think it was the sound of all this information passing.

[Shuddering growl] Suggestion number 5: be a theater of one. People ask me, a lot of times people ask me, what are we supposed to do or what are some of the things that we can do in times like these? Difficult times. Number one, know what we always know, right? Times have been difficult for a long time. They didn’t start recently. They’ve been difficult for a long time. But what can we do in times like these? And one of my suggestions, one thing I try to do is be a theater of one. Be a theater of one. So every day when you wake up and get out of bed, a play starts and you are the main actor in the play and you are going to set an example for behavior. Because if anything we are learning from each other constantly. We’re constantly learning how to behave by watching each other and listening to each other. Regardless of who you voted for, underneath all the bullshit, the hatred and fear is my hope that we have access to the angels of our better nature. That’s so qualified. You can hear that. It’s almost like I’m speaking German. I hope that we have access to the angels of our better nature, but what you can do out there is you can be a theater of one. Every day you put on a play. You’re the star of the show. The world is your stage, and you’re going to show us how to be beautiful. And oftentimes you’re tested. Things don’t work out your way, somebody cuts you off in traffic, but you’re going to show, you’re going to be that example. You can make a gesture in the direction of the good.

[Thunderous growl, puttering] Suggestion number 888,888: practice radical inclusion. Not just inclusion like this, for your friends, but radical inclusion. I’ll do it this way. Radical inclusion, you see the shoulder joint, it’s slightly beyond your shoulder joint. It’s like this. And this gesture can be reserved for people who are not like us. It’s a spiritual practice. You can practice it. You can start practicing it in front of, say, the television or the computer screen. It might be painful. You might not like it, but it’s for you; it’s not for them, however you define them. It’s something for you. Moving slightly outside your comfort zone and seeing yourself in the other. I know it’s like, “We are so far. They’re nothing like me.” I disagree. I disagree. We are more like each other than we’d like to believe. All of us.

[Thunderous growl, snorting] Suggestion number 475: oh, Watch Me Work. So that’s something, we did it this afternoon downstairs in the library space, I think it was called, it’s a lot of fun. I also do it live online. It’s totally free, and it’s about your work. So if ever you have a question that you’d like to ask me about your work, you can go on live. I live stream, it’s on Mondays, HowlRound. I do it live in the lobby of the Public Theater, and we livestream. So you can tweet in and talk to me, and really, really, really a fun thing to do. And it helps you get your work done. Suggestion number 340,885, oh, this is a hard one: when in doubt say thank you. Yeah. See, that’s kind of a dicey one. Suggestion number 45: take the stairs. Suggestion number 8,944: oh, keep the drama on the stage. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. We have a song in my house. “We don’t need no unnecessary drama.” We do that a lot. So keep the drama on the stage.

Suggestion number 99: When you get an award, regardless of the specifics of the award, know that you’ve been called upon to increase the amount of kindness and compassion in the world. And lots of folks think that getting an award gives them license to be unkind. You know, “I’m better than you now ’cause I got this thing.” Actually, they need to read the fine print on the award because the opposite is true. When you’ve been summoned to stand before others, you’ve been summoned, right? You’ve been summoned to represent the human race. I won lots of prizes, and if you’ve made it this far, you’ve been prized. You are a prize. If you’ve made it this far in your life, you’re extremely lucky. And all of us who have been given this kind of prize are here to spread the love and increase the peace.

Suggestion number 12,293: oh, you are the ambassadors of your race. My parents used to say that to me when I was a child, “You are the ambassadors of your race,” because where we lived, we were like in Germany and that was before, you know, there was no MTV or anything and there wasn’t a lot, a lot of integration there. But we’d walk in places, and people would stare at us. Or in Vermont. I know. Yeah. I know you laugh. Are you from Vermont? The Champlain Valley Fair in the early 1970s, I went with some friends and people surrounded me and began to pet me. Vermont. I stayed very still and lived to tell the tale. But you are the ambassadors of your race. These days it means you are the ambassadors of the human race. Yeah. Bring something wonderful.

Suggestion number 555,512 is always realize the value of kindness. And this next suggestion, suggestion 555,513 is a new play called Beginner. Now, the action of this play starts right here, right now.

Performer 1: Where do I begin?

Performer 2: Why are you asking?

P1: Just curious.

P2: All of a sudden you’re just curious.

P1: I’ve, I’ve been curious for a long time, but I never thought the question that I asked you was a question one should ask, really, because it’s a question that has an answer that could, oh, I don’t know. Start a fight or a party or parade or a wedding or a fissure or a series or a portal or a race.

P2: A race?

P1: You heard me.

SLP: Just then, hundreds of people, hundreds of people, just like you, race across the stage. It’s optional, of course. Don’t feel pressured. You’re part of this whether you cross the stage or not. It’s as if every single person in Seattle, Washington, also known as the Emerald City, every single person, and of course everywhere in the world too, were at this very moment. Oh, this is beautiful. I’m going to pause from reading the stage directions just to watch. This is absolutely gorgeous. Oh. See. Every single person from everywhere, right at this very moment, is racing out of doors or racing to the gym. You can keep your flowers if you want. Okay. You can hold onto them, that’s right. Or they’re racing as part of a sport, or maybe they’re late for a bus, or they’re racing to catch a taxi, or they’re racing to catch a boat or a plane, or maybe they’re racing to try to cross a river. Maybe they’re racing to change their mind. Oh, thank you. Hi. They’re racing and they’re running, maybe trying to cross a river or a border or a sea. Everybody racing and running. Everybody running on something or—hi—or toward something. They’re running from something and also everybody is running something. Yeah, we’re all running something. We’re all running something, aren’t we? And we’re all on some kind of path. We’re all on some kind of path. You can have them back after. Oh. Thanks, brother. And we’re all, we’re not only on some kind of path, but as I see you up close, everybody, you guys are pretty. You guys are really nice to—I mean, I don’t mean, I don’t mean that in an inappropriate way. I mean in a kind of, just like you guys are nice to look at. So thank you for being attractive. Thank you for showing up. Oh, thanks. Thank you for being so wonderful. Thank you for participating. I have never cried giving a speech like this, but I think I just might. I’m trying not to; I want to be professional, but your presence does move one to tears, Seattle. Is that why it rains here so much? You guys are so moving. Thank you. Beautiful people. Oh dear. I still have to read the stage directions. Oh yeah, and every person is carrying a flower. Now, what kind of flower? Well, if we’re lucky, that’s going to be the flower of our own choosing. And the people racing, they know that from this very moment when you see these people racing across the stage, I want you to know from this moment things for you are going to be better. Because we’re all on the road to recovery, and you don’t have to run because, you know, you’re already there. The action of this play takes place on this stage, and it also takes place in the stage, in the unused venue, the stage inside your head, right? And the action of this play takes place over and over and over and over and over again. Which means that it’s a forever play. Oh, am I getting off the subject? Am I getting off the path? No, not at all. Yay. Back to our play.

P2: The human race.

P1: Exactly. You’ve got something to teach me. I can smell it. Go on.

P2: Okay. Right. Well, okay. Uh, let’s see. We know, we know that there is no “I” in team, but did you know there is a “me” in enemy?

P1: Good job.

P2: Thank you. Did you, did you come all this way to learn that?

P1: No, but you came all this way to tell it to me.

P2: Okay. How do you do that?

P1: Do what?

P2: Get under the surface of me. Get inside my head.

P1: You open the door and let me in. You flew me into town and opened the door and let me in. So here I am. I’m here, and I’m in your head, deeply curled up in there, giving you a healing hug.

P2: Mm. Thank you.

P1: That’s what I do pretty much. It’s like the common thread running through my output.

P2: Wow. Deep. What was your question?

P1: Which one?

P2: The one up there at the top of the page or back there in the past. The question you had about—

P1: Where do I begin?

SLP: I have never ever told an actor how to say a line, but it would be really great if you could say it just like you did earlier. You know, at the top of the play.

P1: Where do I begin?

P2: Exactly.

P1: Where do I end?

P2: Good questions.

P1: And what about the others?

P2: What others? Where?

P1: Over there?

P2: Oh, they’re you.

P1: They don’t look like me.

P2: No?

P1: Not at all. They’re all “mmm” and I’m all “yaaaay”. And they’ve got scrunch where I’ve got hurk. And I’m all “waa waa” and they’re all “woo woo”.

P2: Huh. They’re you. There you are. Right here. Right there. And over there, too.

P1: Couldn’t be.

P2: It’s true.

P1: So, everything is part of everything, one thing expressing itself in infinite variety?

P2: Bingo.

P1: Should I ask what else is there?

P2: No, don’t ask.

P1: And that’s the whole game of life in one moment?

P2: Yep. Should we sing a song?

P1: Let’s.

SLP: You guys have proven yourself so brilliantly. We’re going to ask you to do a little group singing, which is part of a song that I wrote for you guys. We’re going to sing it tonight with the band, but right now we’re going to try to sing the chorus part. Okay. Now I’ll sing it for you and then we’ll try.

“We’re going around and around and around and around and around and around again. We’re going around and around and around and around.”

SLP, P1 & P2: “We’re going around and around and around and around and around and around again. We’re going around and around and around and around. We’re going around and around and around and around and around and around again. We’re going around and around and around. We’re going around and around and around and around and around and around and around. When you’re going around and around and around and around. We’re going around and around and around and around and around and around again. We’re going around and around and around and around.”

SLP: Well done. Suggestion number 1 million is enjoy the trip. Enjoy the trip. Thank you. All done. Take a bow. Well done.

Now I’m going to go do the Q and A. If anybody has any questions for me. If you want your flower back, you could come. These are so beautiful. Hey, just Q and A about anything or nothing or any answers.

Audience Member 1: I would love the origin story or hear more about the livestream and watching you work, how that got started.

SLP: Sure, sure, sure, sure.

AM1: And how you do it, and who you do it with.

SLP: Yeah, yeah yeah. Sure, sure, sure. Yeah, sure. Watch Me Work. So, those of you who were there this afternoon, just go “blaaah” because I’m going to repeat myself. But about ten years ago, I was hanging out with a friend, Jesse Alick, who works at the public theater. And Jesse is a producer, writer, performer, and he said, “Hey SLP, I’m producing a festival of writers, and we have a lot of work from young writers, and we’re really interested in getting a play from an older writer.” And I was like “haha haha ha”. Actually, I cried later. No. But I was like, well, I was too busy of course, so I said, “Hey man, I’d love to help out. I’m way too busy, but—” And then my mouth opened, and the words started coming out of my mouth. And I was not controlling them, I was just the channel for these words. I said, “But I’ll tell you what I will do, I will put a desk on stage and bring my timer, and for 20 minutes I will invite the audience to create action of a play with me. We’ll all work together. And then after that we’ll do Q and A about their work, which will be the dialogue of the play. And I’ll call it Watch Me Work.” And I’ve been doing it in the lobby for 10 years, the lobby of the Public Theater. It’s open to everybody, and it’s free. I tell people it’s just like Shakespeare in the Park except it’s not Shakespeare and it’s not in the park. But it is free. And we talk about the work of the students, the people who come. So it’s not me talking about my work, it’s me asking you like, “How’s your work going today?” Like that, and we’ll talk like that. And we livestream on HowlRound, H O W L R O U N D, which is a service provided by, I’m going to get the college wrong. Emerson. I was going to say Emerson. Who said that? Who knew? Yeah. You knew. Oh, puh. Okay, thank you. Emerson College, and they’re awesome there, and they host us and allow us to reach lots of people. We have people tweet in from all over the country and all over the world, asking, talking. It’s a wonderful community. So yeah, it’s fun. It’s fun. Yes. Hi.

Audience Member 2: What’s the origin of the walking ritual that you had? Is that from a church thing or just from out of any kind of memory that you have. What inspired you to have the whole group get up and do that?

SLP: This play was directed by Weir Harmon. I mean, I said, you know, “people cross the stage,” but you had them like crossing so beautifully. I mean, what we did, Weir said, “Hey, come, come and celebrate with us and maybe you could write a little something.” So I wrote a little something, and I wrote it for Weir, and I wrote it for all of you guys. And all of us, you know. Everybody is a part of it, so I wanted everybody to have an experience of just crossing through the light, and just participating as they would like to. It was very moving though because I had never done it. You know, it’s experimental theater. I’d never actually done it. I just wrote it and emailed it to you. Yeah, that’s right, last week. I wrote it actually like a month ago, but I was correcting the typos, which take a long time. So that’s all. But I’d never actually experienced it. It’s amazing. I wish you guys had been here just to see beautiful people cross across the stage holding flowers. I was like, “Whoa.” So it was fun. Thanks for joining it.

Audience Member 3: I want to thank you for allowing me in your circle. This is a surprise to me because I had not planned to come at all. My writing friends insisted that come, and I am honored. Thank you.

SLP: Thank you so much. That’s very kind. Thank you. Thank you. Hey, yeah.

Audience Member 4: How long does it take you to— Sometimes I’ll write a song in 45 minutes, and then it’ll take me four and a half years to write one, and they’re short little things sometimes. But talk to me about your process.

SLP: Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, those of us with a creative process, sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s not. Or what is it in Gypsy, that musical, “You got to take the rough with the smooth,” She says—

AM4: That’s one of the only musicals I really love, by the way.

SLP: Right. And I always want to say, “says Tyne Daly,” which it’s not Tyne Daly, but that’s the image I have in my head.

AM4: She was surprisingly good in that.

SLP: Surprisingly. Ouch. Ooh.

AM4: No, I mean, I didn’t expect it from her. That’s all. She’s an actor not a singer.

SLP: Oh, I know. And I only saw it on Cagney and Lacey. Yeah.

AM4: Are your songs always birthed in your plays or are they sometimes separate?

SLP: A lot of them are, but more and more now that I’m playing out with the band, a lot of them I just write for the band. I just sit there and come up with the groove and write them that way. And it’s interesting, my husband, Christian, was telling me, reminding me the other day, he said, “The more you gig with the band, the fewer songs you have in your plays.” Because basically my first thing, the playing the piano, I’m a musician who—

AM4: Me too. Piano. Yeah.

SLP: Yeah, yeah. You get into theater, you know. I got into theater and love it, but I think my first love was writing songs.

AM4: They’re like little plays in a way, or—

SLP: Kind of, but sometimes they take— and that’s a test to your practice. Sometimes you write something and it’s really quick, and then sometimes it’ll take ages to write something. And it doesn’t mean one is better or worse than the other.

AM4: Do you find yourself writing, now that you have a band, with them in your head a little bit? Like, “Oh, So-and-so will do a great sax solo here,” or something that. Does that happen?

SLP: No, I just, I just, you know, I just like what do I want to play around with. You know? But—.

AM4: I’m going to sit down, but I wanted to say that I don’t know a lot about your history, but when you stepped out and started talking, I went, “Oh, she’s kinda like the love child of Lily Tomlin and James Baldwin.” And then you started talking about Baldwin, I went, “Oh wow.” Anyway, I’m honored to be here. Thank you.

SLP: Thank you. Now that’s an interesting love affair. Very funny. Oh, hi.

Audience Member 5: Sorry, I don’t mean to shift the tone here. What are the stories that scare you and how do you find ways to smile at them?

SLP: It’s funny, that line: the stories that scare you, because that’s also, I’ve heard, a suggestion, a prompt from a writer. She says, “Write about what scares you,” and I go, “Oh, I don’t know.” But little stupid things scare me. Everything’s scary. It’s weird, the one fear I don’t have is public speaking, which I hear that people have. You know, I’m a ham, so it’s like, nah, I can get in front of people and go “blah blah blah.” But I think hatred scares me and trying to get underneath that and trying to smile at people who give you these looks like, “Ooh, they’re angry at me for like no reason. Or a reason, but it’s not really a reason.” You know? And trying to get through that. When you see people who really, they don’t like you or you’re kind. And trying to just go, [sigh] “I’m gonna keep on keeping on.” Because, I don’t know, we all, no matter what we look like on the surface, we all come from some kind of people who kept on keeping on. So I draw from that as much as I can and lean on my friends and my family. Thank you. Good question. We can shift the tone. SLP can go dark, man. Hi.

Audience Member 6: Hi. You mentioned Shakespeare earlier, you quoted a little bit from The Tempest. Earlier today I met someone named Ariel, and I said, “Full fathom five my father lies, and his bones are coral made.” That song, Ariel’s song really lives in my head. The Tempest lives in my head a lot. I just wanted to open the door to saying anything you felt like about The Tempest or just Shakespeare in general.

SLP: Well, we are such stuff as dreams are made of. That’s kind of the limit to my— well, I mean, I love Shakespeare as a writer. And I think his writing has taught me — there are hundreds of writers that I love, of course it’s not to the exclusion of other writers — but his writing has taught me so much about character, dramatic structure, how to make a line sing, how to write economically. All those things that we need as writers, whether you write plays or not. And sometimes it might be kind of pricey to go to a Shakespeare play or you gotta, if you’re in New York, wait in line in the park and that. If you don’t have a job or I don’t know how you do it. But you can always go to the library and read the plays. It’s just a great way to form, to strengthen your imagination, I think. Thank you. Thanks.

Audience Member 7: Hi. I love your work, and I just wanted to ask, (a), real quick, what do you find empowerment in? Empowerment in, like what empowers you?

SLP: What’s the second question?

AM7: Oh, my second question was if there was one thing that you could change about the theater industry and the world that we work in, what would it be? Or just the world that we’re working in. You can only answer one if you want to.

SLP: I can only answer one?

AM7: No, no, no. If you want to. It’s up to you. You don’t have to answer both.

SLP: What do I find empowering? I find people who are kind very empowering. To be kind to someone you don’t know. Right? I mean, when you go to get your groceries, you’re kind to the checkout counter person. Sure, we’re always like, “We gotta be kind to the people who we gotta be kind to, the important people.” But when you’re just kind to just people, just whomever. That I find very, very empowering. That can make my whole week, just someone making some sweet conversation, like that. That I find very, very empowering. I mean the power of kindness is, we just should always remember that. And if I could change one thing about the world. You know what it is. I’d get a time machine, and we’d all go, like The Avengers or whatever that movie was like, [time machine sound], and we’d all go back in time. And we’d all go vote. All of us for the right woman. That’s just what I’m saying. I’m not naming any names or anything. I mean, not the wrong woman, the right woman. The woman who’s smart and was so, is so qualified for the job that a whole bunch of people in this country decided to hate on her. I’m just going to say that.

AM7: Thank you.

SLP: So yeah. Yes.

Audience Member 8: Thanks for being here. I also have two questions which might be related, might not. The first is just idle curiosity, but I’ll ask them both. One is that, after day like today, do you curl up in a ball for a week or do you just spring out of bed in the morning tomorrow and do this again? And really my deeper question is, when you spring out of bed, what is it that kicks your brain into gear and puts you into motion? What is that creative force that kicks your brain into gear that gets you moving that creates what you’re doing right here. That is the seed of that. What is it that drives that force?

SLP: So after a day like today, which is not over yet, because we have a gig to do tonight, what do I do? Do I curl up in— yeah, I know. It’s so funny. I know it’s a joke. So I’m right now, yeah, right now, but not right at this very moment, I’m the showrunner for Nat Geo’s limited series on Aretha Franklin. So, on Monday I’ll teach my NYU class in the morning and then go run my writer’s room in the afternoon. So that’s the day. That’s my day. That’s kinda just a thing. So to spring out of bed, it’s often like, “I’m gonna be late from my class,” or my kid, Durham, our son, “Hi, Mommy, Daddy.” You spring out of bed, you know what I mean? I really work to focus on what’s good and things that I can do something about. And the things that I cannot do something about, I really work to just give love to people I meet. Yeah. Like you guys, because you’re beautiful. Thanks. Is that the end? I think that’s the end.

Wier Harman: On behalf of all of us, thank you for traveling all this way across the country to share that healing hug. Can’t thank you enough for being with us, and we’ll see you all soon.

JP: Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle arts and culture series. I’m Jini Palmer. Our theme music comes from the Seattle-based band Ebu and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. A special thanks to our audio engineer, John Nold. Check out our new season of Town Hall Seattle’s original podcast, In the Moment. Each episode, a local Seattle correspondent interviews somebody coming to Town Hall. They get you excited about upcoming events by giving you a behind the scenes look into a presenter’s content, personality, and interests. If you like our arts and culture series, listen to our civics and science series as well. For more information, to check out our calendar of events, or to support Town Hall, go to our website at townhallseattle.org.

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